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Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

Writing Tools: Story Forge Cards

I’ve accumulated a large collection of card-based writing tools, each of which is useful to different parts of my writing process. So I’ve decided to do a series of posts about the various decks I own and how I use them in my writing.

My oldest deck is Story Forge, which I posted about nine years ago when it was being Kickstarted. The idea behind this deck is that the cards can help you when you get stuck. Whether you’re out of new ideas or your characters have gotten themselves into a corner that they need help getting out of, the Story Forge cards can help.

There are five different “suits” in the Story Forge deck: Destiny, Wealth, Will, Emotion, and Identity. The cards are all shuffled together in a single deck and used to create “spreads” akin to a tarot card spread. In addition to some standard tarot spreads, however, there are also some story-specific spreads, depending on the type of story you’re writing, and character-specific spreads if you need to figure out a major or minor character.

Also similar to tarot cards, the orientation of the card when it’s drawn has an impact on its meaning. Each of the cards has two words or phrases related to its suit (one “right side up” and the other “upside down”), along with a short explanation. You use the word that appears at the top of the card when it’s drawn, ignoring the other word.

The cards and spreads work best for plotting a story or plot twist. But I’ve also found it useful to draw a random card if I just need a little spark of inspiration. This version seems to work best if you have a question in mind. “What’s going on with this minor character?,” for example. If I then draw “Pride,” I’ve got a great idea of what’s going on with that character. (And, of course, if the card doesn’t make sense, no matter how you look at it, you can always draw another.)

The book that comes with the Story Forge deck presents the various spreads, along with ways to use these cards for writing, gaming, and even party games. I’ve definitely used them to inspire scenarios for a one-off roleplaying game or to introduce a new storyline into an ongoing game.

There are a couple of things that I don’t love about the Story Forge cards. They’re larger than standard playing cards, though similar in size to many tarot decks, and it’s an 88-card deck, so it can be a little unwieldy to shuffle (especially if you’ve got smaller or less dexterous hands). They also don’t have particularly fancy art–each card is colored and has an icon to indicate its suit, but the design itself does not inspire more ideas. They can also lead to some VERY random storylines. But you can always work with what the cards suggest and then poke and prod at the pieces that don’t fit until they do.

So in summary, use Story Forge for: full plots, quick fixes to plots, quick backstory for characters, gaming, and party games(?).

Story Forge is available through the creator’s dedicated website, though they are currently unable to ship to the UK.

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